One of the hardest things about visiting Nepal is being surrounded by poverty, knowing you could do something to help, knowing your something wouldn’t get very far. There are so many people here living below the poverty line you could blow your life savings a hundred metres from the airport and feel you’ve made a dent on nothing, walk another metre and find someone else you should have given to.
The UN ranks Nepal in the least developed countries in the world, reckons 30% of its people live below the bar of $2 a day. It’s hard to explain what that looks like. There are levels of poverty here. On my first visit I was shocked to see a girl in immaculate school uniform walk into a tin hut and call it home. Last week there was a kid following us around, begging for money. He had shoes on and trousers. We asked him where his parents were and he told us, which meant he had some. By Western standards he’s struggling. Here, he’s getting by.
It’s easy for poverty to lose all meaning here. I’ve seen tourists who figure they can’t give to everyone round it up so they give to no-one. I’ve seen them shoo away beggars who look about ten minutes from death, seen them haggle over seven pence they don’t care about like it’s a sport. I’ve worked out a ranking system so crass I’m embarrassed to tell anyone who hasn’t been here and worked out their own.
I said it’s hard to visit Nepal. Actually it’s a piece of piss; I know I’m ten days away from a hot shower. It’s hard to live in Nepal, harder if you’re a woman, harder still if you’re disabled or from the lower castes. There’s a guy at Boudha, the massive Buddhist stupa in the middle of Kathmandu. He’s a double amputee, his legs taken off just below the knees and not tidily. Seeing him half-walk, half-drag himself on his knees on the hard brick floor makes you grateful for just about everything you’ve had in your life. Yesterday there was a kid in the city centre, blind and dirty, rocking as he prayed, so out of it he didn’t notice if people were putting money his in bowl or walking on by. They’re in a different league to the girl with the hut and the kid with the trousers and a couple of parents.
There are days in Nepal where you look at the energy and the enterprise and feel hopeful for the future. Where you talk to a girl and her education shows, where a guy’s on a mobile and you figure there’s money somewhere. Then there are days where you find yourself looking for giant footprints, where you figure the country’s so wrecked Godzilla must be giving it a regular kicking. I gave the guy at Boudha a hundred Rupees; about 90p. He looked at me like I was fantastic. Somehow that made it a footprint kind of day.
Photo credit: The Zero